Sea of poppies / Amitav Ghosh. p. cm. ISBN ISBN 1- 1. Schooners — Fiction. 2. Voyages and travels — Fiction. 3. Sea of Poppies Amitav Ghosh - Free download as PDF File .pdf), Text File .txt) or read online for free. amitav ghosh Percy Jackson and the Olympians #2 – The Sea Of Monsters The vision of a tall-masted ship, at sail on the ocean, came to Deeti on an.
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Book Reviews: Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh. Raja Huilgol. Transnational Literature Volume 1 No 2 May bestthing.info . Amitav Ghosh has crafted a novel that is by turns witty and provocative, while delivering a magnificent historical adventure. An intricate saga, Sea of Poppies. PDF | Amitav Ghosh's novel Sea of Poppies is a description of colonialism and its effect on the environment. The novel deals with the cultivation.
This prohibition was in part due to the inevitable compromises to observances of ritual purity and caste-based commensality regulations while shipboard. Thus, people who ventured across the water returned to face ostracism, loss of caste standing, and its attendant social status. This was particularly so for those from a higher caste standing, and for those removed from coastal communities. This taboo was well-known to the British, as reflected in the account of Major J.
McNair, the comptroller of Indian convicts in the Straits Settlements. He could never be received in intercourse again with his own people, and so strong are the caste ideas of ceremonial uncleanness that it would be a defilement to his friends and relations even to offer him sustenance of any kind, and he was in point of fact excommunicated and avoided 9.
Social and religious taboos aside, the dreadful unknown of the kalapani coupled with the elaborate measures taken to prevent indentured labourers from escape created fertile grounds for fantastical concoctions of the fate awaiting those who came to be indentured. Ghosh exemplifies the terror of indentured labourers confined at the depot prior to boarding the Ibis: Often these rumours were started by the spectators and camp- followers who lurked perpetually outside the fence—vendors, vagrants, urchins, and others in whom the sight of the girmitiyas inflamed an inexhaustible curiosity: In Sea of Poppies, the connection between Imperial policy and food scarcity is made plain, as Ghosh paints a vivid picture of the fecund Gangetic plain consumed by mass opium cultivation: The town was thronged with hundreds of…impoverished transients…willing to sweat themselves half to death for a few handfuls of rice.
Many of these people had been driven from their villages by the flood of flowers that had washed over the countryside: However, for the first experiential account of indenture aboard the Ibis, Ghosh chooses the character of Deeti, a high-caste North Indian peasant woman who has joined the crew of the Ibis to escape death at the hands of her in-laws.
Here a lacuna exists in scholarly literature that can in part be explained by the fact that women formed only a small fraction of the indentured, especially prior to the late s when the colonial office fixed the ratio of female to male indentured emigrants at The metaphor is significant, for it neatly underscores the notion of exile that is at the core of the diasporic condition. This practice forms a pervasive trope of separation for parents of daughters throughout South Asia.
As a North Indian peasant, Deeti is deeply unsettled by the vision of the ocean-going ship as she lacks any reference points to seafaring or of travel beyond the subcontinent. For Deeti, an apparition of a ship could only be associated with dread and the unknown; yet at the same time, this vision thrills her with its suggestion of change and transformation. As Sea of Poppies is the first installment in a projected trilogy centered around the Ibis, it remains to be seen how Ghosh will continue to develop the character of Deeti, and his representation of the voices and experience of women within the context of indenture.
Maintaining a Sense of Self in the Context of Indenture How did the girmitiyas negotiate the loss of usual social norms with the unprecedented modes of interaction forced upon them by the environment of the Ibis? Lacking the usual community, space, and facilities of everyday life, the girmitiyas struggled to reproduce fragments of what was formerly meaningful in the context of home. In spite of the challenges to kindling a fire in the crowded hold of a wooden ship, this detail is portrayed as a ceremonial necessity, as a betrothed couple must circumambulate fire according to Hindu custom Ghosh Through these pragmatic resolutions, new forms of social congress and new modes of selfhood inevitably developed for people facing unprecedented situations and challenges linked to their diasporic experiences.
In the Sea of Poppies, Ghosh signifies the awakening of that consciousness at the point of departure: Among the women, the talk was of the past, and the little things they would never see, nor hear, nor smell again: No matter how hard the times at home may have been, in the ashes of every past there were a few cinders of memory that glowed with warmth—and now, those embers of recollection took on a new life, in the light of which their presence here, in the belly of a ship that was about to be cast in the abyss… Ghosh For the girmitiyas, this reminiscence functions as an emotional reprieve from the debilitating conditions, helplessness, and uncertain future they face.
This condition is captured exquisitely by V. Naipaul in A House for Mr. In the arcade of Hanuman House…there was already the evening assembly of old men…pulling at clay cheelums that glowed red and smelt of ganja and burnt sacking…. They could not speak English and were not interested in the land where they lived; it was a place where they had come for a short time and stayed longer than they expected. They continually talked of going back to India, but when the opportunity came, many refused, afraid of the unknown, afraid to leave the familiar temporariness Naipaul This norm is based on a new notion of temporary community not based on blood ties but on meritorious activities, such as pilgrimage, or extra-familial communities, such as those who self-identify with a pedagogical lineage.
Historians have long acknowledged the crucial impact of the ship journey on identity formation amongst the girmitiyas. This new inclusive unity amongst the girmitiyas is strikingly articulated by Ghosh as follows: According to the Gaudiya Vaishnava worldview associated with Caitanya, all members of this devotional community are inherently equal to one another based on the religious ideal of an egoless surrender of self to the divine—manifest as Krishna.
Food from the Mouth of Krishna: Hindustan Publishing Corporation, Not in a lifetime of thinking, Deeti knew, would she have stumbled upon an answer so complete, so satisfactory and so thrilling in its possibilities. In the glow of the moment, she did something she never would have done otherwise: Yes, said Deeti, from now on there are no differences between us; we are jahaz-bhai and jahaz-behen to each other; all of us children of the ship Ghosh To unpack the significance of this statement and its unprecedented acceptance by the girmitiya community, let us consider two other contrasting characters: Ghosh uses these characters, respectively, to depict the strictures of maintaining ritual purity and caste-standards and the transformations of self wrought by the experience of overseas travel.
First, as the reader will recall, the punctilious ritual observances of purity by the high-caste Halder clan were extreme. Let us consider a few examples: If he was to keep his sanity, Neel knew he would have to take hold of the jharu and scoop; there was no other way. To rise to his feet and take the three or four steps that separated him from the jharu took as intense an effort as he had ever made, and when he was finally within touching distance of it, he could not prevail upon his hand to make contact: As a foil to the loss of status and negotiation of ritual impurity borne by high-caste Neel Halder, Ghosh presents the character of Baboo Nob Kissan, a Caitanya devotee who embraces the egalitarian Vaishnavite ideal and its rejection of Brahminical rituals and caste observances.
While the Caitanyaite viewpoint made a tremendous impact, it was by no means mainstream. Kalua asks his tormentor why should he be so invested in destroying him when he, Kalua, has done nothing to him personally.
Notable for its extensive treatment of the experience of women girmitiyas, the novel is an intimate portrayal of the journey of indentured laborers and their attempts to maintain a sense of self in a context characterized by a fracture of traditional social and cultural identities; but which in turn paves the way for the constitution of new values and associations.
A Study of Indian Migrants and Mauritius. Transnational Networks and Changing Identities. Rajesh Rai and Peter Reeves.
Routledge, Chanderbali, David. Indian Indenture in the Straits Settlements. Peepal Tree, Ghosh, Amitav. Sea of Poppies. John Murray, Kudaisya, Gyanesh. Several days went by while the fretful crew waited for a pilot to arrive.
Systems Thinking, : Managing Chaos and Complexity: A Platform for Designing Business Architecture
Zachary was asleep in his cabin, dressed in nothing but a sarong, when Serang Ali came to tell him that a bunder-boat had pulled alongside. He too muchi dumbcowing,' said the serang.
A chowdering of your chutes is what you budzats need. What do you think you're doing, toying with your tatters and luffing your laurels while I stand here in the sun? He was dressed in an extravagantly old-fashioned way, with his shirt-collar up on high, a coat that was cut away in the skirts, and a Belcher fogle around his waist. His face, with its bacony hue, its mutton-chop whiskers, beefy cheeks and liverish lips, looked as if it could have been assembled upon a butcher's counter.
Behind him stood a small knot of porters and lascars, bearing an assortment of bowlas, portmanteaus and other baggage. Has he been given the kubber that my bunder-boat has lagowed? Don't just stand there: jaw! Hop to it, before I give your ganders a taste of my lattee.
Have you saying your bysmelas before you know it. Won't do when you're the only sahib on board — not if you don't want to be borakpoked by your darkies. The Burra Sahib — Ben Burnham, that is — asked me to take charge of the ship.
What'd you say we leave the steering to that badmash and find ourselves a drop of loll-shrub? If not, a brandy-pawnee will do just as well. Listen: Hukam Singh has passed out, at the factory. They said you should go there and bring him home. With that he gave his reins a snap and drove off hurriedly, impatient for his meal and his afternoon sleep: it was typical of him to offer no help.
A chill crept up Deeti's neck as she absorbed this: it was not that the news itself was totally unexpected — her husband had been ailing for some time and his collapse did not come entirely as a surprise.
Rather, her foreboding sprang from a certainty that this turn of events was somehow connected with the ship she had seen; it was as if the very wind that was bearing it towards her had blown a draught up her spine. What shall we do? How will we bring him home? We have to find Kalua and his ox-cart, Deeti said. Chal; come, let's go. The hamlet of the Chamars, where Kalua lived, was a short walk away and he was sure to be home at this hour of the afternoon.
The problem was that he would probably expect to be paid and she was hard put to think of something to offer him: she had no grain or fruit to spare, and as for money, there was not a dam's worth of cowrie-shells in the house. Having run through the alternatives, she realized that she had no option but to delve into the carved wooden chest in which her husband kept his supply of opium: the box was nominally locked, but Deeti knew where to find the key.
On opening the lid, she was relieved to find inside several lumps of hard akbari opium, as well as a sizeable piece of soft chandu opium, still wrapped in poppy petals. Deciding on the hard opium, she cut off a lump the size of her thumbnail, and folded it into one of the wrappers she had made that morning.
With the package tucked into the waist of her sari, she set off in the direction of Ghazipur, with Kabutri running ahead, skipping along the embankments that divided the poppy fields. The sun was past its zenith now and a haze was dancing over the flowers, in the warmth of the afternoon. Deeti drew the ghungta of her sari over her face, but the old cotton, cheap and thin to begin with, was now so worn that she could see right through it: the faded fabric blurred the outlines of everything in view, tinting the edges of the plump poppy pods with a faintly crimson halo.
As her steps lengthened, she saw that on some nearby fields, the crop was well in advance of her own: some of her neighbours had already nicked their pods and the white ooze of the sap could be seen congealing around the parallel incisions of the nukha.
The sweet, heady odour of the bleeding pods had drawn swarms of insects, and the air was buzzing with bees, grasshoppers and wasps; many would get stuck in the ooze and tomorrow, when the sap turned colour, their bodies would merge into the black gum, becoming a welcome addition to the weight of the harvest. The sap seemed to have a pacifying effect even on the butterflies, which flapped their wings in oddly erratic patterns, as though they could not remember how to fly.
One of these landed on the back of Kabutri's hand and would not take wing until it was thrown up in the air. See how it's lost in dreams? Deeti said. That means the harvest will be good this year.
Maybe we'll even be able to fix our roof. She stopped to glance in the direction of their hut, which was just visible in the distance: it looked like a tiny raft, floating upon a river of poppies.
The hut's roof was urgently in need of repairs, but in this age of flowers, thatch was not easy to come by: in the old days, the fields would be heavy with wheat in the winter, and after the spring harvest, the straw would be used to repair the damage of the year before.
But now, with the sahibs forcing everyone to grow poppy, no one had thatch to spare — it had to be bought at the market, from people who lived in faraway villages, and the expense was such that people put off their repairs as long as they possibly could. When Deeti was her daughter's age, things were different: poppies had been a luxury then, grown in small clusters between the fields that bore the main winter crops — wheat, masoor dal and vegetables.
Her mother would send some of her poppy seeds to the oilpress, and the rest she would keep for the house, some for replanting, and some to cook with meat and vegetables. As for the sap, it was sieved of impurities and left to dry, until the sun turned it into hard akbari afeem; at that time, no one thought of producing the wet, treacly chandu opium that was made and packaged in the English factory, to be sent across the sea in boats.
In the old days, farmers would keep a little of their home-made opium for their families, to be used during illnesses, or at harvests and weddings; the rest they would sell to the local nobility, or to pykari merchants from Patna. Back then, a few clumps of poppy were enough to provide for a household's needs, leaving a little over, to be sold: no one was inclined to plant more because of all the work it took to grow poppies — fifteen ploughings of the land and every remaining clod to be broken by hand, with a dantoli; fences and bunds to be built; downloads of manure and constant watering; and after all that, the frenzy of the harvest, each bulb having to be individually nicked, drained and scraped.
Such punishment was bearable when you had a patch or two of poppies — but what sane person would want to multiply these labours when there were better, more useful crops to grow, like wheat, dal, vegetables? But those toothsome winter crops were steadily shrinking in acreage: now the factory's appetite for opium seemed never to be sated.
It was impossible to say no to them: if you refused they would leave their silver hidden in your house, or throw it through a window. It was no use telling the white magistrate that you hadn't accepted the money and your thumbprint was forged: he earned commissions on the opium and would never let you off.
And, at the end of it, your earnings would come to no more than three-and-a-half sicca rupees, just about enough to pay off your advance. Reaching down, Deeti snapped off a poppy pod and held it to her nose: the smell of the drying sap was like wet straw, vaguely reminiscent of the rich, earthy perfume of a newly thatched roof after a shower of rain.
This year, if the harvest was good, she would put all the proceeds into the repairing of the roof — if she didn't, the rains would destroy whatever was left of it.
Do you know, she said to Kabutri, it's been seven years since our roof was last thatched? The girl turned her dark, soft eyes towards her mother. Seven years? But isn't that when you were married? Deeti nodded and gave her daughter's hand a squeeze. It was. The new thatch had been paid for by her own father, as a part of her dowry — although he could ill afford it, he had not begrudged the expense since Deeti was the last of his children to be married off.
Her prospects had always been bedevilled by her stars, her fate being ruled by Saturn — Shani — a planet that exercised great power on those born under its influence, often bringing discord, unhappiness and disharmony. With this shadow darkening her future, Deeti's expectations had never been high: she knew that if she were ever to be married, it would probably be to a much older man, possibly an elderly widower who needed a new wife to nurse his brood.
Hukam Singh, by comparison, had seemed a good prospect, not least because Deeti's own brother, Kesri Singh, had proposed the match. The two men had belonged to the same battalion and had served together in a couple of overseas campaigns; Deeti had her brother's word that her prospective husband's disability was a minor one. Also in his favour were his family's connections, the most notable of which consisted of an uncle who had risen to the rank of subedar in the East India Company's army: on his retirement from active duty this uncle had found a lucrative job with a merchant house in Calcutta, and had been instrumental in finding good posts for his relatives — it was he, for instance, who had procured a muchcoveted job in the opium factory for Hukam Singh, the groom-to-be.
When the match advanced to the next stage, it became clear that it was this uncle who was the motive force behind the proposal. Not only did he lead the party that came to settle the details, he also did all the negotiating on the groom's behalf: indeed when the talks reached the point where Deeti had to be led in, to drop her ghungta, it was to the uncle rather than the groom that she had bared her face. There was no denying that the uncle was an impressive figure of a man: his name was Subedar Bhyro Singh and he was in his mid-fifties, with luxuriant white moustaches that curled up to his ear-lobes.
His complexion was bright and rosy, marred only by a scar across his left cheek, and his turban, which was as spotlessly white as his dhoti, was worn with a negligent arrogance that made him seem twice the size of other men of his height.
His strength and vigour were evident as much in the bull-like girth of his neck, as in the surging contours of his stomach — for he was one of those men on whom a belly appears not as an unnecessary weight, but rather as a repository of force and vitality. Such was the subedar's presence that the groom and his immediate family seemed pleasingly diffident in comparison, and this played no small part in earning Deeti's consent for the match.
During the negotiations, she examined the visitors carefully, through a crack in a wall: she had not much cared for the mother, but nor had she felt any fear of her.
For the younger brother she had conceived an immediate dislike — but he was just a weedy youth of no account, and she had assumed that he would be, at worst, a minor source of irritation. As for Hukam Singh, she had been favourably impressed by his soldierly bearing, which was, if anything, enhanced by his limp.
What she had liked better still was his drowsy demeanour and slow manner of speech; he had seemed inoffensive, the kind of man who would go about his work without causing trouble, not the least desirable of qualities in a husband. Through the ceremonies and afterwards, during the long journey upriver to her new home, Deeti had felt no apprehension.
The music had accompanied her as she was carried, in a nalki, from the riverbank to the threshold of her new home; veiled in her sari, she had seen nothing of the house as she went to the garlanded marital bed, but her nostrils had been filled with the smell of fresh thatch. The songs had grown increasingly suggestive while she sat waiting for her husband, and her neck and shoulders had tightened in anticipation of the grip that would push her prone on the bed.
Her sisters had said: Make it hard for him the first time or he'll give you no peace later; fight and scratch and don't let him touch your breasts.
My choli strains Against my waking breasts. When the door opened to admit Hukam Singh, she was sitting coiled on the bed, fully prepared for an assault. Listen there: you don't have to curl yourself up, like a snake: turn to me, look. Peeping warily through the folds of her sari, she saw that he was standing beside her with a carved wooden box in his hands. He placed the chest on the bed and pushed back the lid, to release a powerful, medicinal smell — an odour that was at once oily and earthy, sweet and cloying.
She knew it to be the smell of opium, although she had never before encountered it in such a potent and concentrated form. He pointed to the interior of the box, which was divided into several compartments: See — do you know what's in here?
Isn't it opium? Yes, but of different kinds. His forefinger pointed first to a lump of common akbari, black in colour and hard in texture; then it passed on to a ball of madak, a gluey mixture of opium and tobacco: See; this is the cheap stuff that people smoke in chillums. Next, using both hands, he took out a small lump, still in its poppy-petal wrapper, and touched it to her palm, to show her how soft it was: This is what we make in the factory: chandu.
You won't see it here, the sahibs send it across the sea, to Maha-Chin. It can't be eaten like akbari and it can't be smoked like madak. What's done with it then?
Dekheheba ka hoi? You want to see? She nodded and he rose to his feet and went to a shelf on the wall. Reaching up, he brought down a pipe that was as long as his arm. He held it in front of her, and she saw that it was made of bamboo, blackened and oily with use. There was a mouthpiece at one end, and in the middle of the tube there was a little bulb, made of clay, with a tiny pinhole on top.
Holding the pipe reverentially in his hands, Hukam Singh explained that it came from a faraway place — Rakhine-desh in southern Burma. Pipes like this one were not to be found in Ghazipur, or Benares, or even Bengal: they had to be brought in, from across the Black Water, and were too valuable to be toyed with. From the carved box, he took a long needle, dipped its tip in the soft black chandu and roasted the droplet on the flame of a candle.
When the opium began to sizzle and bubble, he put it on the pinhole of his pipe and took a deep draught of the smoke, through the mouthpiece. He sat with his eyes closed, while the white smoke drifted slowly out of his nostrils. When it was all gone, he ran his hands lovingly over the length of the bamboo tube.
You should know, he said at last, that this is my first wife. She's kept me alive since I was wounded: if it weren't for her I would not be here today. I would have died of pain, long ago. It was when he said these words that Deeti understood what the future held: she remembered how, as children, she and her playmates had laughed at the afeemkhors of their village — the habitual opium-eaters, who sat always as if in a dream, staring at the sky with dull, dead eyes.
Of all the possibilities she had thought of, this was one she had not allowed for: that she might be marrying an afeemkhor — an addict. But how could she have known? Hadn't her own brother assured her that Hukam Singh's injury was not serious? Did my brother know? About my pipe? He laughed. No; how could he? I only learnt to smoke after I was wounded and taken to the hospital barracks.
The orderlies there were from the country we were in, Arakan, and when the pain kept us awake at night, they would bring us pipes and show us what to do. It was useless, she knew, to be seized by regret now, on the very night when her fate had been wedded to his: it was as if the shade of Saturn had passed over her face, to remind her of her destiny. Quietly, so as not to rouse him from his trance, she reached under her veil to wipe her eyes.
But her bangles tinkled and woke him; he picked up his needle again and held it over the flame. When the pipe was ready to be smoked, he turned to her, smiling, and raised an eyebrow, as if to ask if she wanted to try it too. She nodded, thinking that if this smoke could take away the pain of a shattered bone then surely it would help in calming the disquiet in her heart. But when she reached for the pipe, he moved it quickly out of her reach, holding it to his chest: No — you won't know how!
He took a mouthful of the smoke, placed his mouth on hers and breathed it into her body himself. Her head began to swim, but whether from the smoke or from the touch of his lips she could not tell. The fibres of her muscles began to soften and go slack; her body seemed to drain itself of tension and a sensation of the most delectable languor followed in its wake.
Awash in well-being, she leant back against her pillow and then his mouth closed on hers again, filling her lungs with smoke and she felt herself slipping away from this world into another that was brighter, better, more fulfilling.
When she opened her eyes next morning there was a dull ache in her lower abdomen and a painful soreness between her legs. Her clothes were in disarray and she reached down to discover that her thighs were crusted with blood. Her husband was lying beside her, with the brass box in his arms, his clothes undisturbed.
Sea of Poppies
She shook him awake to ask: What happened? Was everything all right last night? He nodded and gave her a drowsy smile. Yes, everything was as it should be, he said. You gave proof of your purity to my family. With heaven's blessing, your lap will soon be filled. She would have liked to believe him, but looking at his enervated and listless limbs she found it hard to imagine that he had been capable of any great exertion the night before.
She lay on her pillow trying to remember what had happened, but was unable to retrieve any memory of the latter part of the night. Shortly afterwards, her mother-in-law appeared by her bedside; wreathed in smiles, she sprinkled blessings from a container of holy water, and murmured, in a tone of tender solicitude: Everything went exactly as it should, beti.
What an auspicious start to your new life! Her husband's uncle, Subedar Bhyro Singh, echoed these blessings and slipped a gold coin into her palm: Beti, your lap will soon be filled — you will have a thousand sons. Despite these reassurances, Deeti could not shake off the conviction that something untoward had happened on her wedding night.
But what could it have been? Her suspicions deepened in the following weeks, when Hukam Singh showed no further interest in her, being usually in a state of torpid, opium-induced somnolence by the time he fell on his bed.
Deeti tried a few stratagems to break him from the spell of his pipe, but all to no avail: it was pointless to withhold opium from a man who worked in the very factory where it was processed; and when she tried hiding his pipe, he quickly fashioned another.
Nor did the effects of temporary deprivation make him desire her any more: on the contrary, it seemed only to make him angry and withdrawn. At length, Deeti was forced to conclude that he could never be a husband to her, in the full sense, either because his injury had rendered him incapable, or because opium had removed the inclination. But then her belly began to swell with the weight of a child and her suspicions acquired an added edge: who could have impregnated her if not her husband?
What exactly had happened that night? When she tried to question her husband he spoke with pride about the consummation of their wedding — but the look in his eyes told her that he had no actual recollection of the event; that his memory of that night was probably an opium-induced dream, implanted by someone else.
Was it possible then that her own stupor had also been arranged, by someone who knew of her husband's condition and had made a plan to conceal his impotence, in order to preserve the family's honour? Deeti knew that her mother-in-law would stop at nothing where her sons were concerned: all she would have had to do was to ask Hukam Singh to share some of his opium with his new bride; an accomplice could have done the rest.
Deeti could even imagine that the old woman had actually been present in the room, helping to roll back her sari and holding down her legs while the deed was done.
As for who the accomplice was, Deeti would not allow herself to yield to her first suspicions: the identity of her child's father was too important a matter to be settled without further confirmation. To confront her mother-in-law, Deeti knew, would serve no purpose: she would tell her nothing and spout many lies and soothing reassurances. Yet every day offered fresh proof of the old woman's complicity — in nothing more so than the look of proprietory satisfaction with which she watched over the progress of the pregnancy; it was as if the child were her own, growing in the receptacle of Deeti's body.
In the end, it was the old woman herself who provided Deeti with the impetus to act upon her suspicions. One day, while massaging Deeti's belly, she said: And after we've delivered this one, we must make sure there are more — many, many more. It was this throwaway remark that revealed to Deeti that her mother-in-law had every intention of ensuring that whatever had happened on her wedding night would be repeated; that she would be drugged and held down, to be raped again by the unknown accomplice.
What was she to do? It rained hard that night and the whole house was filled with the smell of wet thatch. The grassy fragrance cleared Deeti's mind: think, she had to think, it was no use to weep and bemoan the influence of the planets.
She thought of her husband and his torpid, drowsy gaze: how was it that his eyes were so different from his mother's?
Why was his gaze so blank and hers, so sharp and cunning? The answer came to Deeti all of a sudden — of course, the difference lay in the wooden box. Her husband was fast asleep, with drool trickling down his chin and an arm thrown over his box. Pulling gently, she freed the box from his grasp and prised the key out of his fingers. A ripe odour of earth and decay came wafting out when she opened the lid. Averting her face, she pared a few shavings from a cake of hard akbari opium.
Slipping the pieces into the folds of her sari, she locked the box and replaced the key in her husband's hands: although he was fast asleep, his fingers closed greedily on this companion of his nights.
Next morning Deeti mixed a little trace of opium into her mother-in-law's sweetened milk. The old woman drank it thirstily and spent the rest of the morning lazing in the shade of a mango tree. Her contentment was enough to dispel whatever misgivings Deeti may have had: from that day on she began to slip traces of the drug into everything she served her mother-in-law; she sprinkled it on her achars, kneaded it into her dalpuris, fried it into her pakoras and dissolved it in her dal.
In a very short time, the old woman grew quieter and more tranquil, her voice lost its harshness and her eyes became softer; she no longer took much interest in Deeti's pregnancy and spent more and more time lying in bed. When relatives came to visit, they always commented on how peaceful she looked — and she, for her part, never stinted in her praise of Deeti, her fond new daughterin-law.
As for Deeti, the more she ministered the drug, the more she came to respect its potency: how frail a creature was a human being, to be tamed by such tiny doses of this substance! She saw now why the factory in Ghazipur was so diligently patrolled by the sahibs and their sepoys — for if a little bit of this gum could give her such power over the life, the character, the very soul of this elderly woman, then with more of it at her disposal, why should she not be able to seize kingdoms and control multitudes?
And surely this could not be the only such substance upon the earth? She began to pay closer attention to dais and ojhas, the travelling midwives and exorcists who occasionally passed through their village; she learnt to recognize plants like hemp and datura and would sometimes try little experiments, feeding extracts to her mother-inlaw and observing the effects. It was a decoction of datura that wrung the truth from the old woman, by sending her into a trance from which she never recovered.
In her last days, when her mind was wandering she often referred to Deeti as 'Draupadi'; when asked why, she would murmur drowsily: Because the earth has never seen a more virtuous woman than Draupadi, of the Mahabharata, wife to five brothers.
It was this allusion that confirmed Deeti's belief that the child in her belly had been fathered not by her husband, but by Chandan Singh, her leering, slack-jawed brother-inlaw. There, beset by squalls and sudden gusts of wind, she dropped anchor to await the incoming tide that would carry her to her destination early next morning.
The city being only a short distance away, a messenger was dispatched on horseback, to alert Mr Benjamin Burnham to the schooner's impending arrival. The Ibis wasn't the only vessel to seek shelter at the Narrows that afternoon: also moored there was a stately houseboat that belonged to the estate of Raskhali, a large landholding a half-day's journey away.
Thus it happened that the approach of the Ibis was witnessed by Raja Neel Rattan Halder, the zemindar of Raskhali, who was on board the palatial barge with his eight-year-old son and a sizeable retinue of attendants.
Also with him was his mistress, a once-famous dancer, known to the world by her stage-name, Elokeshi: the Raja was returning to Calcutta, where he lived, after a visit to his Raskhali estate. The Halders of Raskhali were one of the oldest and most noted landed families of Bengal, and their boat was among the most luxurious to be seen on the river: the vessel was a brigantine-rigged pinnace-budgerow — an Anglicized version of the humbler Bengali bajra.
A double-masted houseboat of capacious dimensions, the budgerow's hull was painted blue and grey, to match the Raskhali estate's livery, and the family's emblem — the stylized head of a tiger — was emblazoned on its prow and its sail. The main deck had six large staterooms, with Venetian windows and jillmilled blinds; it also boasted a grand, glittering reception chamber, a sheeshmahal, panelled with mirrors and fragments of crystals: used only on formal occasions, this cabin was large enough to stage dances and other entertainments.
Although sumptuous meals were often served on the budgerow, the preparation of food was not permitted anywhere on the vessel. Though not Brahmins, the Halders were orthodox Hindus, zealous in the observance of upper-caste taboos and in following the usages of their class: to them, the defilements associated with the preparation of food were anathema.
When at sail, the Halder budgerow always towed another, smaller boat in its wake, a pulwar; this second vessel served not only as a kitchen-tender, but also as a floating barracks for the small army of piyadas, paiks and other retainers who were always in attendance on the zemindar. The top deck of the budgerow was an open gallery, ringed by a waist-high deck rail: it was a tradition among the Raskhali zemindars to use this space for flying kites.
The sport was much beloved of the Halder menfolk, and as with other such favoured pursuits — for example, music and the cultivation of roses — they had added nuances and subtleties that elevated the flying of kites from a mere amusement to a form of connoisseurship.
While common people cared only for how high their kites soared and how well they 'fought' with others, what mattered most to the Halders was the pattern of a kite's flight and whether or not it matched the precise shade and mood of the wind. Generations of landed leisure had allowed them to develop their own terminology for this aspect of the elements: in their vocabulary, a strong, steady breeze was 'neel', blue; a violent nor'easter was purple, and a listless puff was yellow.
The squalls that brought the Ibis to Hooghly Point were of none of these colours: they were winds of a kind which the Halders were accustomed to speak of as 'suqlat' — a shade of scarlet that they associated with sudden reversals of fortune.
The Rajas of Raskhali were famously a line that put great trust in omens — and in this, as in most other matters, Neel Rattan Halder was a devout upholder of inherited traditions: for over a year now, he had been pursued by bad news, and the sudden arrival of the Ibis, along with the changeable colour of the wind, seemed to him to be sure indications of a turn in his luck. The present zemindar was himself named after the noblest of winds, the steady, blue breeze years later, when it was time for him to enter Deeti's shrine, it was by a few strokes of this colour that she would make his likeness.
Neel had but recently come into the title, having inherited it upon his father's death two years before: he was in his late twenties, and although well past his first youth, he retained the frail, etiolated frame of the sickly child he had once been.
His long, thin-boned face had the pallor that comes from always being shielded from the full glare of the sun; in his limbs, too, there was a length and leanness that suggested the sinuosity of a shade-seeking plant. His complexion was such that his lips formed a sunburst of red on his face, their colour being highlighted by the thin moustache that bordered his mouth. Like others of his ilk, Neel had been betrothed at birth to the daughter of another prominent landowning family; the marriage had been solemnized when he was twelve, but had resulted in only one living child — Neel's eight-year-old heir presumptive, Raj Rattan.
Even more than others of their line, this boy delighted in the sport of kite-flying: it was at his insistence that Neel had ventured up to the budgerow's uppermost deck on the afternoon when the Ibis dropped anchor at the Narrows.
It was the shipowner's flag, on the mainmast of the Ibis, that caught the zemindar's attention: he knew the chequered pennant almost as well as the emblem of his own estate, his family's fortunes having long been dependent on the firm founded by Benjamin Burnham. Neel knew, at a glance, that the Ibis was a new acquisition: the terraces of his main residence in Calcutta, the Raskhali Rajbari, commanded an excellent view of the Hooghly River and he was familiar with most vessels that came regularly to the city.
But the Ibis was no country boat: although not in the best of trim, it was evident that she was of excellent craftsmanship — such a vessel was not to be cheaply acquired. Neel's curiosity was piqued, for it seemed possible that the schooner's arrival might presage a reversal in his own fortunes.
Without unloosing his kite-string, Neel summoned his personal bearer, a tall, turbaned Benarasi called Parimal. Take a dinghy and row over to that ship, he said. Ask the serangs who the ship belongs to and how many officers are on board. With a gesture of acknowledgement, Parimal retreated down the ladder and soon afterwards, a slim paunchway pulled away from the Raskhali budgerow to nudge up alongside the Ibis.
A scant half-hour later, Parimal returned to report that the ship belonged to Burnham-sahib, of Calcutta. How many officers on board? Neel inquired. Of hat-wearing topi-walas there are just two, said Parimal. And who are they — the two sahibs? The other is a pilot from Calcutta, Doughty-sahib.
Huzoor may remember him: in the old days he often used to come to the Raskhali Rajbari.
He sends his salams. Neel nodded, although he had no memory of the pilot. Handing his kite-string to a servant, he gestured to Parimal to follow him down to his stateroom, on the lower deck. There, after sharpening a quill, he picked up a sheet of paper, wrote a few lines and ran a handful of sand across the page. When the ink was dry, he handed the letter to Parimal. Here, he said, take this to the ship and deliver it personally to Doughty-sahib.
Tell him the Raja is pleased to invite Mr Reid and himself to dine on the Raskhali budgerow. Come back quickly and let me know what they say. Parimal bowed again, and retreated backwards into the gangway, leaving Neel still seated at his desk. It was there that Elokeshi found him, a short while later, when she swept into the stateroom in a swirl of anklets and attar: he was sitting in a chair, his fingers steepled, lost in thought.
With a gurgle of laughter, she clapped her hands over his eyes and cried: There you are — always alone! Never any time for your Elokeshi. Peeling her hands off his eyes, Neel turned to smile at her.
Sea of Poppies Amitav Ghosh
Among the connoisseurs of Calcutta, Elokeshi was not considered a great beauty: her face was too round, the bridge of her nose too flat, and her lips too puffy to be pleasing to the conventional eye.
Her hair, long, black and flowing, was her great asset, and she liked to wear it over her shoulders, with no bindings other than a few gold tassels.
But it was not so much her looks as her spirit that had drawn Neel to her, the cast of her mind being as effervescent as his own was sombre: although many years his senior, and well versed in the ways of the world, her manner was as giggly and flirtatious as it had been when she'd first attracted notice as a dancer of sublimely light-footed tukras and tihais.
Now, flinging herself on the large four-poster bed in the centre of the stateroom, she parted her scarves and dupattas so that her pouting lips were laid bare, while the rest of her face remained covered. Ten days on this lumbering boat, she moaned, all alone, with nothing to do, and not once do you so much as look at me.
All alone — and what about them? Neel laughed and inclined his head in the direction of the doorway, where three girls were sitting crouched, watching their mistress. Oh them. Elokeshi giggled, covering her mouth: she was a creature of the city, addicted to the crowded bazars of Calcutta, and she had insisted on bringing along an entourage to keep her company on this unaccustomed expedition into the countryside; the three girls were at once maids, disciples and apprentices, indispensable to the refinement of her arts.
Now, at a gesture from their mistress's forefinger, the girls withdrew, shutting the door behind them. But even in retreat they did not stray far from their mistress: in order to prevent interruptions, they sat in a huddle in the gangway outside, rising from time to time to steal glances through the chinks in a jillmilled ventilation panel on the teakwood door.
Once the door was shut, Elokeshi divested herself of one of her long dupattas and floated it over Neel's head, snaring him in the cloth and pulling him to the bed. Come to me now, she said, pouting, you've been at that desk long enough. When Neel went to lie beside her, she pushed him back against a bank of pillows.
Now tell me, she said, on the undulating note that was her voice of complaint: Why did you bring me all this way with you — so far from the city? You still haven't explained properly. Isn't it natural that I should want you to see my zemindary?
Just to see it? She tossed her head in a gesture of challenge, miming a dancer's enactment of the role of injured lover. Is that all?
What else? He rubbed a lock of her hair between his fingertips. Wasn't it enough to see the place? Didn't you like what you saw? Of course I liked it, said Elokeshi; it was grand beyond anything I could imagine. Her gaze drifted away, as if in search of his colonnaded riverside mansion with its gardens and orchards.
She whispered: So many people, so much land! It made me think: I'm such a small part of your life. He put his hand under her chin and turned her face towards him. What's the matter, Elokeshi? Tell me. What's on your mind? I don't know how to tell you. Now her fingers began to unbutton the ivory studs that ran slantwise across the chest of his kurta. She murmured: Do you know what my kanchanis said when they saw how large your zemindary was?
They said: Elokeshi-di, you should ask the Raja for some land — don't you need a place where your relatives can live? After all, you need some security for your old age. Neel groaned in annoyance: Those girls of yours are always making trouble. I wish you would turn them out of your house. They just look after me — that's all.
Her fingers strayed into his chest hair, busying themselves in making tiny braids, as she whispered: There's nothing wrong with a raja giving land to the girls in his keep. Your father used to do it all the time.
People say his women had only to ask to get whatever they wanted: shawls, jewellery, jobs for their relatives. Yes, said Neel, with a wry smile: And those relatives would go on receiving salaries, even when they were caught embezzling from the estate. You see, she said, running her fingertips over his lips.
He was a man who knew the value of love. Not like me — I know, he said. It was true that Neel's own style of living was, for a scion of the Halder family, almost frugal: he managed to get by with a single two-horse carriage and made do with a modest wing of the family mansion.
Much less a voluptuary than his father, he had no mistress other than Elokeshi — but on her, he lavished his affections without stint, his relationship with his wife having never progressed beyond the conventional performance of his husbandly duties.
Don't you see, Elokeshi? Neel said, with a touch of sadness. To live like my father did costs money — more money than our estates could possibly provide. Elokeshi was suddenly alert, her eyes keen with interest. What do you mean?
Everyone always said your father was one of the richest men in the city. Neel stiffened. Elokeshi — a pond needn't be deep to bear a lotus. Elokeshi snatched back her hand and sat up.
What are you trying to say? Explain to me. Neel knew he had said too much already, so he smiled and slipped his hand under her choli: It's nothing, Elokeshi.
There were times when he longed to tell her about the problems his father had left him with, but he knew her well enough to be aware that she would probably start making other arrangements if she learnt of the full extent of his difficulties. It was not that she was avaricious: on the contrary, for all her affectations, he knew that she had a strong sense of responsibility towards those who were dependent on her — just as Neel did himself.
He regretted having let slip his words about his father, for it was premature to give her cause for alarm. Let it be, Elokeshi. What does it matter? No, tell me about it, said Elokeshi, pushing him back against the pillows. A well-wisher in Calcutta had warned her of financial trouble in the Raskhali zemindary: she had paid no heed at the time, but she sensed now that something was really awry and that she might have to re-examine her options. Tell me, Elokeshi asked again: You've been so preoccupied these last few months — what's on your mind?
It's nothing you should worry about, Neel said — and it was certainly true, that no matter what happened, he would see to it that she was provided for: You and your girls and your house are all safe. He was cut short by the voice of his bearer, Parimal, which suddenly made itself heard in the gangway, arguing furiously with the three girls: he was demanding to be let in, and they were adamantly holding him at bay.
Hastily pulling a sheet over Elokeshi, Neel called out to the girls: Let him in. Parimal stepped in, keeping his eyes carefully averted from Elokeshi's covered form. Addressing Neel, he said: Huzoor, the sahibs on the ship said they would gladly come. They will be here soon after sunset. Good, said Neel. But you'll have to take care of the bandobast, Parimal: I want the sahibs to be entertained as they would have been in my father's day.
This startled Parimal, who had never known his master to make such a request. But huzoor, how? And with what? Neel said. You know what needs to be done. Elokeshi waited for the door to close before throwing off the covers.
What's all this? What's been arranged?Rows of cursies for the sahibs and mems to sit on. The top deck of the budgerow was an open gallery, ringed by a waist-high deck rail: it was a tradition among the Raskhali zemindars to use this space for flying kites. Escaping racism, he joins the Ibis on its first voyage for its new owner, Mr.
Awash in well-being, she leant back against her pillow and then his mouth closed on hers again, filling her lungs with smoke and she felt herself slipping away from this world into another that was brighter, better, more fulfilling. Routledge, They said: Elokeshi-di, you should ask the Raja for some land — don't you need a place where your relatives can live? In this newly uncertain economic reality, both factors combined to make the engagement and transportation of indentured laborers suddenly profitable.
It was no use telling the white magistrate that you hadn't accepted the money and your thumbprint was forged: he earned commissions on the opium and would never let you off. Shivani Shingari Budhiraja. Numerous plot developments are facilitated by Nob Kissin Baboo, a Vaishnavite would-be priest who is working as an overseer for Mr Burnham and comes to believe that Zachary is an avatar of Krishna.
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